Hillbilly pernunciation
March 7, 2008 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Regional dialect or dyslexic family? Switching the "r" with a vowel at the beginning of words.

My wife points out that my mother and I "kinda talk funny." Specifically, on words beginning with the combination of "consonant-letter R-vowel" we often transcribe them as "consonant-vowel-letter R." Perscribe instead of prescribe, for example. Perspective instead of prospective. Dozens of other examples escape me, but I know I pronounce (pernounce?) them incorrectly without knowing.

Mom was born and raised in rural Missouri of German heritage but near an area rife with Scot-Irish immigrants via Kentucky and Tennessee. My question: is this there a regional linguistic history behind this mispronunciation?
posted by F Mackenzie to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
transcribe-transpose in the follow-up
posted by F Mackenzie at 4:06 PM on March 7, 2008

That sounds quite familiar to me, and I'm from Missouri. I might even do it a little bit myself. I'll have to keep an ear out at family functions in the future.
posted by zsazsa at 4:11 PM on March 7, 2008

That's totally a southern thing. I'm from Texas and I find myself doing this from time to time, at which time I immediately try to stop.
posted by MadamM at 4:14 PM on March 7, 2008

...although come to think of it, I feel like I hear this in my Kentuckian grandparents more so than in Texans. Maybe more hillbilly than Southern?
posted by MadamM at 4:16 PM on March 7, 2008

I vote for regional. I grew up in southern Michigan and did that until I trained myself not to because I got tired of sounding like a redneck. Not only is the "R" moved around, but my dad also says "refuge" instead of "refuse" (as in garbage).
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:17 PM on March 7, 2008

although come to think of it, I feel like I hear this in my Kentuckian grandparents more so than in Texans. Maybe more hillbilly than Southern?

Huh - you know there was a HUGE influx of Kentuckians into Detroit during WWII. I know it changed a lot about how people in the area speak -you might be onto something!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:18 PM on March 7, 2008

Off topic bc I don't think this thread needs to trace the movements of Kentucky people around the country (unless it does, but I'm not going to start), but a good chunk of my grandparents' families moved to Detroit for work from the 30s through to the 50s. I never knew they were part of a movement until now, so thanks, The Light Fantastic!
posted by MadamM at 4:25 PM on March 7, 2008

I don't think it has anything to do with dyslexia, and I hesitate to say that it's regional because I've noticed this pattern with people from all over the US. A lot of Americans seem to do this when they're not being really careful about pronouncing words correctly... maybe it's more colloquial than dialectical.

Hmm, all of the examples that you cite start with "pr". If you only do this with "pr" words, I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that "p" is a voiceless consonant. Maybe it's easier or more comfortable for you to group the voiced consonant "r" after the vowel?

I also wonder if maybe you're "deleting" the first vowel from these words entirely... maybe instead of saying "proscribe", for instance, you're saying "pr'scribe".
posted by arianell at 4:28 PM on March 7, 2008

Y'mean she don't think it's a purty accent?

(Yeah, it is a matter of regional accent, not some weridness particular to your gene pool).
posted by dilettante at 4:33 PM on March 7, 2008

My family (in Southwest Virginia) does this (they also say "warsh" for "wash"). In fact, growing up in WNC, I thought the word was "perscribe" throughout my childhood until I finally read it. So yes, regional.
posted by thivaia at 4:43 PM on March 7, 2008

Seems like a common enough mispronunciation. I've heard people do this, and there simply can't be *that* many dyslexics in the world.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2008

Well, to mix it up a bit, I talk like this and I'm not from the south (born & raised in California, nowhere rural, no German, Scots, or Irish heritage). However, I'd agree with arianell that I just chop out the vowel sometimes (pr'scribe) but I do also say *perscribe and probably *pernounce. Hard to say on what words, though: I don't say 'perspective' instead of 'prospective', and I can't imagine anyone saying "job perspects", but maybe some do...
posted by baklavabaklava at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2008

Born in the south, my dad was a southner, but I was raised in Maine where the opposite of this is the rule. R's get dropped from almost every word that has them, and inserted into other words that don't have them. In middle school the large kill switch in the industrial arts room was actually labeled "POWE". Proscribe becomes poscribe, perspective was pehspective, etc. My example was "Pahk the cah on the tah and shut off the poweah" (Park the car on the tar and shut off the power). Can't think of any R insertions at the moment.

Unfortunately this means I was caught between the two extremes so I grew up with almost no accent. Completely freaked a few people out when they realized it.
posted by jwells at 6:45 PM on March 7, 2008

East Tennessean here. I do the same thing on occasion. Even after living in away from the south for 10 years. I don't worry too much about it. I've even used the dreaded "nukular". I live in NYC now. I hear far worse atrocities on the English language on a daily basis (and I'm not talking about people who speak English as a second language). It would be boring if we all sounded like Tom Brokaw.
posted by kimdog at 7:27 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here in Tennessee, I notice that usage mostly in people who talk 'country' (or redneck, as someone said above). Not that there's anything wrong with that...

But do you say "liberry"?
posted by frobozz at 7:28 PM on March 7, 2008

"In Old English, a small winged creature with feathers was known as a brid. Over time, the pronunciation changed to bird."

In other words, switching the "r" with the following vowel is common enough that linguists probably even have a name for it.
posted by kindall at 7:58 PM on March 7, 2008

this seems similar, in another example like kindall's, to shifts over time from "waps" to "wasp"--I think sound shifts like that are part of language change. Probably (probally) most dialects have some form of those changes going on all the time. You just happened to notice this one.
posted by not that girl at 8:38 PM on March 7, 2008

Kindall: Yup, Metathesis. See also Epenthesis.
posted by adamrice at 8:53 PM on March 7, 2008

I remember in linguistics class that informal Greek was the example for this type of metathesis, and that it has an even more specific name (I know how to draw out the rule, but I can't remember what the rule's called!)
posted by klangklangston at 9:19 PM on March 7, 2008

Yeah, metathesis. Another example is OE hros -> horse. Or "axe" for "ask".

It's a regionalism. As a non-American, I associate it with some sort of Southern US dialect, though I'm not familiar enough with them to say which ones.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:33 PM on March 7, 2008

Aye, I'm from St. Louis, and in and out of the city in Missouri, I've heard plenty of people do that.
posted by stleric at 9:35 PM on March 7, 2008

Missouri, yes (some of my wife's family say it, and they're from northern MO) and also Scottish (some of my Glaswegian relatives use it). The Scottish variant tends to be at the end of the word: eastren, pattren.
posted by scruss at 5:27 AM on March 8, 2008

Thanks for all the feedback. I shall notify my wife that my speech has "regional charm."

Next I'll tackle why Mom says chimley for chimney and acrost for across!
posted by F Mackenzie at 2:02 PM on March 8, 2008

Maybe you can track down why the hell my dad thinks there's a "w" in "breakfast," which he pronounces "breakwist."
posted by kindall at 3:44 PM on March 8, 2008

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